The Milk Carton Kids – comprised of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan – are ready to take 2013 by storm. The Ash & Clay, the duo’s third album, was released last month on ANTI- Records. It is riddled with high-lonesome whistles, as the boys flawlessly deliver handsome, hybrid folk songs. Tracks either flare up or lurch forward, and do so beautifully. Even though they have an ambitious tour of the States in their sights, currently the Kids are in Europe promoting the release. But for some reason, they aren’t really concerned with the grueling demands of touring; their shows last year with Old Crow Medicine Show taught them all they needed to know. Continue reading →
The Milk Carton Kids The Ash & Clay
Los Angeles, CA
“Gorgeous folk music driven by explosive vocals and powerful compositions”
The Milk Carton Kids are reviving folk music. With a contemporary twist on the genre and the incorporation of simple, yet enticing harmonies, the pair has crafted a sound that is not only beautiful but also seamlessly constructed. Their latest album, The Ash & Clay, is a further example of the duo’s ability to create songs that are both intimate and powerful, bittersweet and inspiring.
There is a sense of nostalgia on this latest endeavor, as darker images are set to stirring melodies. The ballad “Snake Eyes” presents a complex duality between memory and forward movement while “The Jewel of June” is acceptance and introspection. The soft harmonies of twin acoustic guitars and delicate vocals of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan fuse together into something utterly captivating. As each track progresses, there is a need to listen intently to everything the pair does.
The folk music “revival” has gained substantial momentum as of late, but The Milk Carton Kids take it another level. Their unabashed honesty and naturally flowing sound is hypnotizing. The have an exceptional knack for crafting heartbreaking songs and skillful compositions that serves them well on The Ash & Clay.
For those who have been waiting, it’s been a long six years since The Coup’s last studio release, but for their sixth album Boots Riley, Pam the Funkstress and the rest of the gang are back with an undeniably energetic effort that highlights their talents not only as a political hip-hop group, but also as accomplished genre-jumpers with a cause and something to say.
The album features some of the predictable ingredients of great hip-hop album: steady, ear-catching beats, features from other good artists and attentive, thoughtful lyricism from an intelligent, commanding frontman. But, instead of just fulfilling the expectation, The Coup upped the ante by taking some creative risks, like incorporating kazoos in the zany track “Your Parents’ Cocaine” and playing around with a cool, lazy Sunday rock sound on “My Murder, My Love.”
The first listen might confuse new Coup fans, but it’s hard not to appreciate the range of sounds on the 13-song album and its contagious tracklist, which becomes more and more infectious each time through.
Standout tracks include the pounding, anthemic “You Are Not A Riot,” the minimalist, melancholy track “Violet” and the upbeat, driving opening song, “The Magic Clap.”
Constructing a Singular Sound Using Solid-State Amps
If you’re a fan of Philadelphia breakout band Dr. Dog – particularly their latest album Be The Void, released in February on Anti-Records - there’s a chance that you might have found yourself listening to their music and wondering exactly what it is that you like about them. You know they sound good, but you can’t quite put your finger on why you like their sound.
On Cinematic Lyrics and Taking a New Approach to the Studio
Listening to Sean Rowe against the scope of other American singer/songwriters is like playing a game of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other. Progressive songwriting is still delivered with simplicity and maturity. Lyrics about people are still tinged by his naturalist views. A matter-of-fact vocal approach is still wrought with abounding, reverberating emotion, whether the song calls for elation or heartache.
After ANTI- re-released his debut Magic last year, Rowe was poised to put out the sophomore record he knows sounds like little else out there. Tracks on The Salesman and the Shark vary – simple ballads are joined by heart-wrenching duets and uptempo, experimental tracks reach outside of his previously bare material. Whether it paints a picture or creates a movie in your head, Rowe hopes to leave listeners with something they won’t forget. Continue reading →
I realized something on my way into Tim Fite’s apartment, climbing over a guitar in a shopping cart and a homemade, wooden boombox. I didn’t want to write about Tim. I wanted to be his friend. Fite has been living in Brooklyn for 11 years. His music is defiantly innovative and yet inexplicably familiar. His creativity is contagious.
Fite’s records are genre-defying and multi-dimensional – twang, samples, guns, and guitars. All humorous and in despair. His lyricism unpacks what it is to be alive today, from the social and economic complexities of surviving under capitalism to the simple sound of a breaking heart. He moves from hip-hop to folk with an enviable fluidity.
He has released three albums thus far for ANTI- Records. In Gone Ain’t Gone (2005) and Fair Ain’t Fair (2008), Fite worked solely from samples taken off dollar records. His latest, Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t (2012), was fleshed out of a stockpile of sounds Fite recorded with friends.
His projects have ranged from the “acoustic twang core” of Mudfite, to the “candy coated hip-hop” of Little T and One Track Mike, to the “bad ass rock and roll” of Homeschool. Tim Fite as a solo artist is “all of that shit rolled into one.”
Tell me about your most recent record, Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t.
I usually steal wholesale from other bands. I jack big chunks of music. For this record I teamed up with my friends, engineer Rob Badenoch and Justin Riddle, who’s a brilliant drummer. We went to the woods to a barn in a high school auditorium and we recorded hours and hours and hours of crazy drum sounds at every different BPM and rhythmic style. I made this huge bank of sounds, and from that bank I began to build my songs. Then I started building banks of other instruments besides drums, like guitars and banjos and horns, until I had tons of sounds that I could steal from myself.
Why did you choose to take that route?
Mostly because I wanted a new challenge, and because when I put out records with ANTI- I have to clear the samples so that they don’t get in trouble. I don’t really care if I get in trouble for stealing music, but they care if they do.
On creating a cohesive album: “I like albums. With a beginning, middle, and end. I listen all the way through. Shuffle is for pussies.”
Each of your albums has a thematic concept. Why is Ain’t Ain’t Ain’t about being a teenager?
It’s the last one of the trilogy, which means that it’s sort of an ending, and I tend to get reflective, I think, when I see things coming to an end. I want to look back and figure out where it all started. I didn’t originally intend on it being an album about teenagers; the songs just started coming out.
Is that how you come up with an album, by letting the concept emerge?
I record three times as many songs as I would need for a record, and usually about a third of the way into that I’ll see a common thematic thread and I try and grab onto that and flesh it out with the other two thirds of songs. Then I cut most of them and keep the good ones. And the rest… they just live in the ether.
How involved were you in the production process for this record?
I am all the way close, with some help from Rob [Badenoch] to make sure everything stayed in phase. I am a control freak. I want to be able to perfect every moment in every song. I let go of some of that control for this album, but only because I could trust Rob to water the plants while I was away.
When you’re writing a song do you hear the sounds before you find the lyrics?
I almost always make the music first. Coming from an MC background you would think that I would just write any old rhymes and fit them to a fresh beat, but I really do think the song comes first.
When you’re putting an album together do you have a specific structure in mind?
I like albums. With a beginning, middle, and end. I listen all the way through. Shuffle is for pussies. I always have the same structure in mind when I pick songs… a brick shit-house.
On songwriting: “I almost always make the music first. Coming from an MC background you would think that I would just write any old rhymes and fit them to a fresh beat, but I really do think the song comes first.”
Now that your ANTI- trilogy is over, what are your plans for future projects?
Right now I’m making songs for the Brooklyn Philharmonic. I’m also going to make a record of songs with my friend Osei Essed. We’re going to record a tribute record about Paul Robeson, who’s our favorite guy. Me andPow Pow from Man Man, we’re going to make a rap record. And I really want to focus on my visual art, in a way that I haven’t – because making pictures makes me happy.
How did you get involved with the Brooklyn Philharmonic?
Anybody who’s a musician in Brooklyn can apply for an Outside-In Fellowship. They choose three people a year and team them up with the Brooklyn Philharmonic House Composer, Randy Woolf. The artists do a performance of a string quartet and a full reading of a whole orchestral arrangement. It’s a really dope opportunity for someone like me who has limited access to that kind of instrumentation.
What do you use when working on your arrangement?
I use the computer and a lot of MIDI, and I just sort of arrange it there and export it into Sibelius. Randy [Woolf] is helping me make sure that all the notes are written the way they’re supposed to be, because up until doing this I never learned to read music. It’s an uphill battle because I blew off all of the learning that most people do while they’re young. I can’t read the notes, but I know what the sounds are.
Is that an obstacle for you when working with others?
No, because I can sing everything I want to have played, and I can describe it with words – just not with notes. Now I’m learning to describe it with notes, which is great. It’ll give me another tool for communicating, but I don’t necessarily know if that language is one that comes naturally to me. I think the reason I avoided it for so long is because it actually is mathematics, and I’ve spent my life avoiding math.
You come from an artistic family. Both of your parents are renowned painters. Can you talk about this?
I grew up in the woods…way off the road in a small farmhouse with a barn and a milk house my parents used as a studio. We had to walk up the path to get to the road when we were kids. Our dad would put the orange on us and make us yell, “I’m not a deer! I’m not a deer!” My parents are both painters. They’re the ones who taught me what it means to do what you love and to try and get better at doing something for your whole life, which I don’t think is a concept that a lot of people get. People try to pass the time; they don’t try to improve the time. They taught me you could improve forever and ever, which is really great.
When did you form your first real band?
We had a band, me and [my brother] Greg and the two kids who lived in the valley with us in the woods. Most of our songs were just big old runs of cuss words, like every cuss word you can say all in a row. We were like a bike gang. You know, we’d ride our bikes and they’d be like ‘Jujujujujujuju’ and I’d be like, ‘Fuck! Shit! Ass! Bitch!’
Talk about some of your early recording experiences and first learning to play music.
I quit piano when I was six. My teacher cried. After that, I didn’t do any formal music study. I learned some chords from a cool guitar player in high school, and started to skunk around with a 4-track and a Roland TR-505 beat machine. I made a whole bunch of super lo-fi albums. Some on my own, some with my friend Keith. Eventually I got a computer with Pro Tools, and that really changed the game. With a limited amount of gear, I can make studio quality music. It also makes stealing really easy.
You have an energetic, engaging live show. Why do you perform the way you do?
I don’t know any other way to perform. It’s like, ‘Why do you use your left hand?’ Well, that was the first hand that grabbed the pencil! I don’t like boring shows. I see a lot of them. I really think it’s important as a performer to be 100% there, to interact with the audience and perform for them. Not just turn in on the music and get wrapped up in it. It’s fun for me and it’s fun for the crowd.
You’re about to go on tour. How do you prepare?
I learn the new songs and learn ‘em good so I can perform them well. I have to do a lot of content prep. I’m not like a normal band. I have a multimedia show, so I have to make all the videos and draw all these crazy pictures and do all of the visual stuff for the show beforehand. In a lot of ways it’s even more work than practicing with a band. But in the end, once it’s all done, it’s a lot easier to just keep banging out good shows because it’s all ready. All I have to do is put it in the microwave and warm it up and serve it to the people!
When I interviewed Lost in the Trees’Ari Picker in 2008, he had just released his stunning debut full length, All Alone in an Empty House. He was excited and proud, if humbly so. This was before that album was picked up by ANTI-. Before the likes of NPR’s Bob Boilen were calling it one of his favorites of the year. And before Picker’s mother ended her own life. While a tragic event of that magnitude would affect anyone, Picker has used it as creative fuel for A Church That Fits Our Need, from the album’s cover to lines like “because she breathed I breathe” from “This Dead Bird is Beautiful.”
While the inspiration behind A Church That Fits Our Needs may have been drawn from pain, Picker uses it to create melodies that soar with his rich falsetto and are complimented by majestic instrumentation (and the truly wonderful background vocals of Emma Nadeau). A gifted composer, Picker finds just the right moment to bring in a subtle guitar counterpoint or a slightly dissonant string arrangement, as in “Villain (I’ll Stick Around).”
Starting off the album and breaking mid-point are two short movements, which serve to further a cohesive feel. And, while it was born in grief, the album rises past acceptance to embracing life through music. If that sounds grandiose, listen to A Church That Fits Our Needs and hear for yourself. (ANTI-)
“A dark and winding journey down the somber roads of Manitoba”
The depth of John K. Samson’s lyricism and his ability to create honest and poignant music has always been beyond impressive. He is a prolific musician with a talent for spinning tales of characters who are seemingly lost and filled with longing. His first full-length solo album, Provincial, runs in this same vein as he shares stories of life in Manitoba.
The atmosphere is quite frequently haunting and one of melancholia. The minimalist “Highway 1 East” is the introduction and gives way to an album of intense imagery and blunt honesty. Tracks like “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” and “Grace General” are driven by a well-constructed combination of up-tempo alt rock and sparse piano and strings, respectively.
“Heart of the Continent” is perhaps the album’s most descriptive and sorrow-filled track. As he describes an approaching storm, “inky bruises punched into the sky by bolts of light,” he paints a picture of billboards, brick buildings and darkness. It is here that the unforgiving reality of this land is shared.
Samson has chosen to embrace the darkened souls that inhabit much of his homeland in a way that makes them almost attractive. While he is often referred to as “The Weakerthans’ front man,” he is a talented artist who can hold is own, and who has found a way to reconcile that which is broken with the hope for something better. (ANTI-/Epitaph)
“Trading Beatle-esque pop for audacious rock and roll”
Dr. Dog is a band that is consistently morphing, and with each record their sound seems to become edgier and more austere. In Be The Void, their second release on ANTI-, and fifth overall, the band has turned further away from the Beatle-esque pop they were known for, penning their most audacious rock album to date. Taking a cue from the critical acclaim of Shame, Shame, the band has once again tracked this album live, capturing the essence and energy of their stage performances. The addition of new drummer Eric Slick and electronics-percussionist-guitarist Dimitri Manos also seems to have an effect on the band’s sound.
That is not to say that the band has become completely callous, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Their sound is still catchy, upbeat, and danceable, but once a psychedelic and upbeat pop band, Dr. Dog has transformed from something vibrant into something edgier and harder. Songs such as “Big Girl” and “Over Here, Over There” flaunt more of a punkish Iggy Pop sound. And while opening track “Lonesome” and “Get Away” recede to a folk-like sound, the distorted guitar riffs make them fit perfectly into this otherwise brash album. Does this mean Dr. Dog will continue to craft impetuous rock and roll numbers? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure – while previous attempts have gained Dr. Dog success critically, Be the Void will be the album that really gets them noticed. (ANTI-)
“An earnest, honest album full of personality and candor”
Appropriately set for a Valentine’s Day release, Islands churns out an emotional, heartfelt and intimate album as their first full-length release since 2009. The title of the album, which is either a reference to a short story written by Orson Scott Card or an ode by acclaimed Romantic poet William Wordsworth, lends to the thematic imagery that makes both subtle and not-so-subtle connections to dreams, illusions and the complicated world inside one’s head.
Bandleader Nick Thorburn’s silken, nearly-effortless vocals give the album a sweet, easy-going vibe. Standout tracks showcase the band’s collective power to craft punchy melodies that don’t detract from the impassioned, frequently-introspective lyrics that make this album much more interesting than most ubiquitous indie pop efforts. “Never Go Solo” is a piano-driven track that allows Thorburn to stray from his generally soft tone to a full-voiced, unshy performance, while featuring stabbing percussion woven throughout. “Hallways” is an upbeat, jaunty jam with great harmonies over high-pitched, staccato piano notes, hearty handclaps and what sounds like some genuine foot stomping.
As a whole, the album is a mid-paced affair that begins and ends with unhurried songs filled in with enough up-tempo tracks to keep listeners from using the record as a sleep aid. (ANTI-)